Why isn’t your security deposit enough?

I’m intrigued by the early results from the Days of Exposure tool that was featured two issues ago. If you remember, Days of Exposure is the total number of days of service a customer ends up owing for if they are disconnected for non-payment and never reinstate service.

I had a suspicion most utilities don’t charge a sufficient security deposit, and the early results have confirmed that. Thus far, 40 people have used the Days of Exposure tool. Of those 40, seven don’t charge a security deposit, so this analysis is based on the remaining 33.

The Days of Exposure tool doesn’t ask who is completing the page, but it does log the values for each entry. This means I don’t know which utilities are represented by the results shown here:

Days of exposure

The Days of Exposure for those utilities that bill monthly ranged from 53 days (1.77 billing periods of exposure) to 116 days (3.87 billing periods of exposure). 53 Days of Exposure might be the lowest I’ve seen over the course of several years of using this calculation. In case you’re wondering, here’s how they arrived at 53 Days of Exposure:

Refunds vs. potential write-offs

As shown in the graph above, seven of the 33 responses (21.2%) charge a security deposit sufficient to cover their potential liability, based on their Days of Exposure. The remaining 26 responses (78.8%) risk potential write-offs ranging from a paltry fifty cents to a whopping $308.33!

Five of the 33 responses are within $10.00 of charging a security deposit that exactly covers their potential liability. Of these, two are refunds – $2.00 and $8.33 – and the other three are potential write-offs of $.50, $1.49, and $6.00. Kudos to these five utilities for doing a stellar job of determining their security deposit!

If you haven’t already done so, I invite you to take a minute and click here to calculate your utility’s Days of Exposure and determine if you are at risk for a potential bad debt write-off.

Holiday spending money

If you missed the last issue, I’m offering two $50.00 Visa gift cards, one to a new subscriber and one to a current subscriber who refers a new subscriber. If you refer a new subscriber between now and 11:59 pm on Thursday, November 15, you will be entered once for each referral. For referrals from outside your organization, you will be entered twice for each new subscriber. Be sure to remind the people you refer to enter your name on the Referred By line when they complete the subscription form.

Are your days of exposure as low as they could be?

Are your days of exposure as low as they could be? To find out, please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com to learn how you could benefit from a business review.

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© 2018 Gary Sanders

Want some extra holiday spending money?

Would you like a little extra spending money this holiday season?

As a way of encouraging more people to subscribe to the Utility Information Pipeline, I’m offering two $50.00 Visa gift cards, one to a new subscriber and one to a current subscriber who refers a new subscriber.

I will draw the winning entries on Friday, November 16 (in time to get the gift cards to the winners before Black Friday!) and will announce the winners in the November 20 Utility Information Pipeline.

New subscribers

If you subscribe between now and 11:59 pm on Thursday, November 15, you will automatically be entered in a drawing for one of the gift cards. If you are referred by someone, be sure to enter their name on the Referred By line of the subscription form.

Referrals

If you refer a new subscriber between now and 11:59 pm on Thursday, November 15, you will be entered once for each referral. For referrals from outside your organization, you will be entered twice for each new subscriber. Be sure to remind the people you refer to enter your name on the Referred By line when they complete the subscription form.

Days of exposure

If you missed the last issue, it included a link to a new Days of Exposure tool I’ve created. Days of Exposure is the total number of days of service a customer ends up owing for if they are cut off for non-payment and never reinstate service.

If you haven’t already done so, please take a minute and click here to calculate your utility’s Days of Exposure and determine if you are at risk for a potential bad debt write-off.

Webinar this morning

If you’re reading this first thing on Tuesday morning, you still have time to register for a webinar from the Environmental Finance Center at UNC this morning at 10:00 am EST. The webinar is entitled “Setting Financial Targets for Water Utilities – Beyond the Budget”. You can learn more about the webinar and register to attend by clicking here.

Do you have an idea for a future Utility Information Pipeline?

Do you have an idea for a future Utility Information Pipeline newsletter? If so, please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com to let me know.

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© 2018 Gary Sanders

Calculate your days of exposure

If you’ve been a Utility Information Pipeline reader from the early days, you know I’ve written about days of exposure in one of the earliest issues and revisited itagain three years ago.

I feel like this is an important enough topic to not only write about it again, but to also create a tool so you can calculate your days of exposure. First, let’s review how days of exposure are calculated…

Components of days of exposure

Days of exposure is the total number of days of service a customer ends up owing for if they are cut off for non-payment and never reinstate service. It takes into account six specific time periods:

The sum of these six values results in days of exposure. Dividing days of exposure by the number of days in the billing period (days between meter readings) yields periods of exposure. Multiplying the periods of exposure by the average residential utility bill and then subtracting the security deposit arrives at the potential bad debt write-off (or deposit refund if the security deposit is adequate).

In my experience, taking steps to reduce days of exposure is an exercise that would benefit nearly all utilities, so I’ve developed an online tool to calculate days of exposure.

Calculate your days of exposure

If you’ve attended my Improving Revenue Collections for Utilities presentation at a utility conference, you’ve had the opportunity to complete a days of exposure worksheet. If not, or if you’ve forgotten what yours was, I’ve created an online, interactive days of exposure calculator.

You enter the number of days in each of the six stages, plus your average residential utility bill and residential security deposit, and the tool will calculate your days of exposure and potential bad debt write-off or deposit refund. To calculate your days of exposure, please click here.

Are you surprised by your days of exposure?

Are your days of exposure excessive or are you left with a potential bad debt write-off? If so, please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com to learn how a business review could help evaluate how to improve your days of exposure.

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© 2018 Gary Sanders

What are you missing with third party online bill pay?

One of the earliest Utility Information Pipeline issues (it was newsletter #12 and this issue is #187) dealt with the advantages of a fully integrated online bill pay system. Much has changed in the seven years since that issue was published and the topic is worth revisiting.

A good, fully integrated online bill pay system is like a Swiss Army knife – one tool that serves many purposes.

Do you offer online payments?

The most important question is are you offering online payments? If the answer is “no”, the obvious response is “why not?” Second only to bank drafts, online payments are the easiest way to accept payments. Especially if you charge a third-party convenience fee, because your customer pays the full price of processing the credit card transaction.

Even if your software vendor doesn’t offer online bill pay, there are many third-party options available. If a third party is your only option, I encourage you to consider it.

However, if your software vendor does offer a fully integrated online bill pay option, and you’re not taking advantage of it, here are some of the features you might be missing.

Real time integration

Third-party online bill pay vendors generally fall into one of two categories – companies whose primary line of business is payment processing and outsource print vendors. In the first case, an updated file with customer balances is usually provided to the third party once a day. Outsource bill print vendors who offer online bill pay generally rely upon the balance provided in the most recent bill print file.

The obvious weakness of either of these options is out-of-date information. In the first situation, payments made earlier in the day aren’t reflected in the balance. The classic case is a customer pays the bill in the morning and then, not knowing a payment has already been made, their spouse pays it again later in the day. The online bill pay vendor scenario is even worse – no adjustments or payments made all month are reflected in the balance.

A fully integrated online bill pay system solves this dilemma because payments are logged in real time and the customer’s balance is always up-to-date, eliminating the chance of overpayments on an account.

Additionally, third party systems require a file of payments to be imported the next day. This isn’t necessary with a fully integrated system because the payments are logged in the system as they happen.

History viewable online

Third-party providers generally provide little more than the customer’s balance and due date. A fully integrated online bill pay system should display billing history, payment history, and usage history.

The more information your customers can find online, the less they need to call your office for assistance, reducing the call burden on your customer service staff.

Customer portal

Over the years, fully integrated online bill pay systems have evolved into customer portals where customers can do much more than just pay bills and view history.

If you offer paperless billing, also called ebilling (and you should!), a fully integrated customer portal allows your customers to change their email addresses as desired, again reducing calls to your customer service staff.

Additional options provided by some customer portals include updating address and contact information, applying for service, initiating turn-off service orders, and sending messages to customer service.

Is your online bill pay system doing all it can for you?

Are you trying to determine if moving to an automated meter reading system is the right decision for your utility? If so, please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com to learn how a business review could help.

Water and Wastewater Utility Management Survey results webinar

The 2017-2018 North Carolina Water and Wastewater Utility Management Survey is now complete. This survey was conducted by the Environmental Finance Center (EFC) at the University of North Carolina’s School of Government and the North Carolina League of Municipalities (NCLM) and covered the management and long-term planning practices and policies of North Carolina drinking water and wastewater utilities.

The results will be presented in a webinar, this Thursday, August 30, at 11:00 am ET. You can register to participate in the webinar here.

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© 2018 Gary Sanders

What are the potential downsides to an automated meter reading system?

The last Utility Information Pipeline dealt with factors to consider when conducting a Return on Investment (ROI) analysis for implementing an automated meter reading system. In that article, I asked readers who have implemented AMR or AMI systems to share their experiences.

The general manager of a rural water utility, a long-time newsletter subscriber, emailed me and relayed some of the issues his utility has faced in implementing a drive-by automated meter reading system. This issue highlights some of the points he raised, along with issues I’ve heard from other utilities that could be considered potential weaknesses of an automated meter reading system.

Here are some of the potential downsides to implementing an automated meter reading system…

Damage to meters

The utility manager I mentioned above reports that, on average, between .7% and 1.0% of their meters are damaged each month. Damaged meters means incurring repair or replacement costs (which, for some utilities, may be charged to the customer if the customer’s negligence caused the damage). Damaged or malfunctioning meters won’t communicate with the radio receiver, requiring them to be read manually. Of course, this negates any labor savings achieved by automating the process for reading these meters.

Vegetative overgrowth

A frequent complaint of utilities using radio read meters is these meters can become overgrown by grass, weeds, or nearby bushes and shrubs. This poses a problem when the meter must be visited, either for a routine turn-on or turn-off or for disconnection for non-payment.

Faulty meters

Many utilities report receiving defective meters from the meter manufacturer. If this is a manufacturing defect, it can affect many meters received in a single shipment. Defective meters require troubleshooting and, once it has been determined the meter is at fault, replacement. This requires additional time from the utility’s field service personnel, mitigating some of the labor cost savings of not reading manually.

Not “lifting the lid” each month

One of the misgivings I hear most often from utilities about moving to either an AMR or AMI system is each meter is no longer visited each billing period. When reading meters manually or with handhelds, the meter reader must visit every meter (and lift the lid for water meters) each month. This allows the meter reader to visually inspect each meter on the route and note any issues or possible damage to the meter. To mitigate this impact, I know of utilities with a policy of reading a portion of their meters manually each billing period to insure each meter is visited once a year.

Resistance from customers

Some utilities have experienced pushback from customers who consider a meter that measures their usage at frequent intervals to be an invasion of privacy. Others have concerns about the potential health impact of being subjected to additional radio waves. Even though these concerns may be easily dismissed by those who are knowledgeable about radio read systems, they can be very real to your customers. So real that some states require utilities to allow reluctant customers to opt out of having a radio read meter installed at their home.

I’d love to hear your experience

If you’ve upgraded to an automated meter reading system, whether AMR or AMI, I’d love to hear your version of the pros and cons of implementing the system. Please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or email me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com. I’d like to schedule a time to talk with you about your experience.

Is an AMR or AMI system for you?

Are you trying to determine if moving to an automated meter reading system is the right decision for your utility? If so, please give me a call at 919-232-2320 or e-mail me at gsanders@logicssolutions.com to learn how a customized ROI analysis or business review could help.

Click here to subscribe to my free, bi-weekly email newsletter...

© 2018 Gary Sanders